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Sunday 20th October 2019 ko 12.00

U19 Kategorie Superiore Grp A

PARTIZANI TIRANA 1 (Marinjaj 70)

Qyra sent off 85 (violent conduct)

SHKËNDIJA 2 (Islamaj 52 Kokomani 89)

Hasani sent off 85 (violent conduct)

Att 93 at KS Klubite Olimpiku Stadiumi, Yrshek, Tirana

Sunday morning in Tirana started as I’d hoped. I woke in my bed in the Hotel Vila e Arte just off Skanderbeg Square and not sellotaped to a lamp post naked somewhere! That is the distinct advantage of being on a stag weekend in your late 40’s, I think all of the party ended Saturday by phoning significant others, and during breakfast one or two distant looks showed that while we were enjoying a weekend we’ll remember for the rest of our lives, we missed our wives, girlfriends and children.

Zaja arrived with his minibus bang on time as we’d become to expect, we may have only met him the day before but the adventures we’d been through that day made him feel like one of the family! He produced a surprise for us too, his son Ditmar who we’d seen play for Mirdita the day before. Zaja clearly saw his gesture as a means of providing translation services, and we saw it as a means of meeting someone new and who we could learn more about Albania. It helped that Ditmar is both an engaging and intelligent chap, and we all greatly enjoyed his company, but this ground needed salvation from another source.

We traveled west, to Yshek, on the tip of metropolitan Tirana to the stadium originally built for KF Olimpiku but with that club no longer playing senior football the ground seems to be used as a place for other clubs to play youth team games. There did seem to be a problem though, security didn’t want to let us in!

Zaja did everything he could to negotiate, I could hear his staccato Albanian with the occasional “Scottish Delegation” thrown in. It didn’t seem to be working until the match delegate ambled over to see what the fuss was about. He spotted me- I’d met him back at Kamez when I’d jotted down the team line-ups from his records. That simple act of OCD on my part the day before gently oiled the wheels of bureaucracy and allowed us in.

Eventually we could see why they questioned our presence there. There was, potentially at least, unfettered access to the players, and to our left there was the potential to watch the game from a set of bleachers so even if we hadn’t have managed to get through security we’d have still have seen the game. Once again it was a case of Zaja deciding that his new friends deserved an upgrade.

It’s fair to say we rather enjoyed the our surroundings. There was a lot of Juventus branding, and there’s an obvious gain to be had if you can cherry-pick the best young Albanian talent when Italy is such a short distance away. Young Ditmar had a rather cynical view of Juve’s involvement, describing their input as little more than window dressing.

There were picnic chairs and parasols, and yes, a bar too. Thanks to Zaja for buying the first round which arrived at my seat just as the match delegate arrived with the team lineups! It proved to be a good vantage point, and that included a fist flight between two man in a half-built house just to the left of the ground!

But a couple of us decided we wanted to explore those bleachers. The view there was excellent, but the the seats were mostly broken and some of the wooden slats were in poor shape to put it mildly. I climbed up extremely gingerly, took my photos, and had a moment of realisation! There I was, at the top of a badly maintained structure and above all else I had a fiancee to go home to the next day! I very slowly made my way back down.

The opposition’s identity was interesting. We took them to be KF Shkëndija from North Macedonia (but ethnically Albanian) but Ditmar set us straight. They were Shkëndija Tiranë, who used to be one of Albania’s biggest clubs in the 1970’s producing a slew of Albanian internationals but found life post Hoxha difficult and didn’t finish last season’s Third Division. They now only exist at youth level and are the team representing a football academy founded by former Albanian international Loro Boriçi.

It was a tough, bruising game, and it was of little surprise that the tension spilled over, with a player from each side seeing red for fighting. Shkëndija won it with a late goal and you could tell what it meant to the players besting the big guns from the Kategorie Superiore.

I would have been good to linger and the barman had shown remarkable resourcefulness in getting the fridge restocked with beers after we’d emptied it, but we had another adventure to find.